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Prep Before First Day of Residency

October 31, 2023
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Are you done with medical school and waiting to start your residency program? Keep reading to discover the best tips for residency preparation, so you give yourself the best chance of success.

Complete Paperwork and Orientation

Complete all your necessary paperwork before your first day of residency. For your medical license, DEA registration, and pharmacy license, consider how long it takes to process after you submit the paperwork and leave yourself plenty of time. You can't start your residency without these documents.

If you plan to do your residency in another country, complete the visa paperwork and confirm how long you can be in the country before you start working.

Your hospital will also give you orientation materials, which may include pre-recorded videos, remote sessions, and talks with your supervisors and other residents. Use this as an opportunity to connect with the people you'll be working with and learn the nuances of the hospital's policies and procedures.

Ask for Help

Don't prepare for residency alone. Reach out to your program coordinator, supervisors, mentors, and peers for help. Med students who've been through the process know how stressful it can be, and they'll want to help you.

Develop Professionalism

Many new residents feel a sense of surprise at how professional they must act, even on the first day of residency. As a doctor now, you must use your title instead of just your name. Also, work on perfecting your communication techniques and social skills, so you have a good bedside manner and patients feel comfortable talking to you about their problems.

List Your Unknowns

Even the best medical school graduates don't retain everything they learned or master every technique. To prepare yourself for residency, make a list of all the things you don’t feel comfortable with.

For example, maybe you need more practice intubating patients, or prescribing opioids for pain management makes you uncomfortable. The list should also include diseases and conditions you don't see often and should brush up on before you have to diagnose a patient.

Put your biggest weaknesses at the top of the list. The goal isn't to complete the list by your first day of residency but rather to improve your confidence in dealing with each item so anxiety doesn't paralyze you.

Make Intentional Progress

Start at the top of your list with the things that make you most uncomfortable and work down from there. Don't overwhelm or put too much pressure on yourself. The fact you completed your medical education already shows you're capable; you just need to build confidence.

Pick two or three days a week and address a few topics for 10-15 minutes each. Choose one day at the end of the week to review what you studied the previous two or three days.

Focus on Efficiency

Besides a lack of confidence, your second greatest challenge as a resident is poor efficiency. When you start, you'll feel like you don't have enough time for making notes, seeing your patients, and developing a good workflow despite working long hours.

Identify your areas that lack efficiency and what causes it. Maybe it's a lack of confidence slowing you down, or maybe your desire for perfection hinders you from completing everything.

If you're like most residents, you can probably improve the following areas:

  • Improving your writing speed to take faster notes
  • Ignoring distractions to improve concentration
  • Practicing medical procedures
  • Communicating efficiently with patients

With practice, you can develop confidence and habits that allow you to offer efficient treatment without sacrificing quality. When you don't feel rushed to get everything done, you can learn more and even take some time to relax to avoid burnout.

Prioritize Balance

You'll feel the temptation to always work so you can progress faster. While you'll get that opportunity with weeks that approach 80 working hours, you must prioritize balance whenever possible. Without self-care and relaxation, you'll burn out before you finish residency.

How do you prioritize balance? Develop a life outside of your medical training and work, including practicing the same holistic health habits you'd advise for your patients. Make sure you're exercising, eating well, and getting as much sleep as possible.

Don't forget to nurture the important relationships in your life and form new bonds with the other residents and your coworkers. When not working, prioritize interests and passions that have nothing to do with medicine.

While some weeks you'll focus on just getting through with exercise, sleep, and food, on your less busy weeks, focus on being a complete person.


When you use the time between medical school and residency to fully prepare, you can have an enjoyable experience. While residency is always stressful, with proper planning, it can set you up for success and a career you truly love.

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